Surviving in animal ag these days is no easy proposition.
Feed costs can amplify even the slightest of mistakes into a farm-loss situation. University of Illinois' Hans Stein detailed a number of tips for reducing swine feed costs at the 2013 Pork Expo in Peoria.
"First, you have to realize there are no silver bullets," Stein explains.
There are two ways to reduce feed costs: reduce the amount of feed used or use alternative ingredients to create a lower-cost feed. Stein notes most operations waste 2% to 12% of total feed.
In reducing the amount of feed, most immediately begin talking improved conversion rates. However, mechanical loss can account for quite a bit of waste. Stein urges farmers to take a hard look at their feeders' efficiency.
"Feeders are one of the biggest places you can reduce feed costs," he notes.
Improperly adjusted feeders can result in a 5% to 10% feed loss through the slats. Another big problem is too much feed in the pan. Stein says the goal is not to have a 100% covered feed pan. Instead, folks should aim for 30% to 40% pan coverage.
These adjustments are some of the simplest ways to reduce feed costs. Stein recommends inspections to confirm feeding equipment is properly adjusted.
Another way to reduce the amount of feed is to improve feed conversion rates.
For some time, the industry has known reducing particle size can lead to increased FCRs. Stein notes many are now utilizing feeds with particle size around 400 microns. As particle size drops, FCR increases. However, the risk for ulcers also increases.
"By grinding finer, you can take fat out of the diet and maintain the energy content," Stein explains. "With many people utilizing DDGS or other high-fiber ingredients, particle size can be decreased to 400 microns with little risk for ulcer problems."
Pelletizing and extruding feed can also increase conversion rates.
Feed additives can also improve FCRs. Stein says using antibiotic growth promoters in nursery pig diets can increase FCRs by 5% to 10%. However, if used in growing-finishing diets, FCR can be reduced by 2% to 4%, Stein adds.
Acidifiers and probiotics have the potential to boost FCRs by 2% to 4% in grown-fed-pig populations. But, again, Stein notes the response is not consistent.
In times of high feed costs, shrewd producers immediately begin selling lighter market hogs. Stein says science backs up this cost-saving measure. Pigs less than 50 pounds typically gain a pound per every 2.2 pounds of feed. Once they're in the 200-300-pound range, the ratio drops to a pound of gain per every 3.5 pounds of feed.
"You should definitely be looking at your contract and marketing hogs at the lower end of the range," Stein notes. "And, for no reason should you exceed the contract's range."
Once considered incompatible with mono-gastric animals, DDGS are now commonplace in swine diets. In fact, Stein notes nearly half of a gestating sow's diet can come from DDGS.
When shopping DDGS, Stein says there are now three distinct categories. Normal DDGS has a fat content more than 9%. Low-fat means a fat content range from 5% to 9%. De-oiled DDGS has less than 5% fat content. Low-fat is the most common type of DDGS in Illinois. "Less fat gives you less gross energy," Stein explains.
Other alternative feed ingredients include dog food, bakery meal, wheat middlings, corn germ meal, and small grains such as wheat, barley and oats.
Feed additives such as lysine and crystalline amino acids can also reduce feed costs. "With corn at $7 a bushel, amino acids are something you should be looking at and working on getting it as economical as possible," Steins notes.
For additional information on reducing feed costs, visit Stein's website. His team frequently updates the site with the latest experimental info.